Stephen Garber

Reaching Out

You can’t hug virtually, so do this instead

I know that Stephen Garber knows people. The president of Third Level is a seasoned expert on change management, relationship building and quality-of-life issues. He is an international executive coach, mediator, trainer and public speaker. Stephen coaches individuals, teams and organizations to replace conflict and dysfunction with effective communication and functional relationships, causing increased profitability and productivity.

That’s his professional profile. What I know about Stephen, through his long association with SFBW, is his kindness and emotional intelligence, his ability to guide people toward self-awareness to make them better coworkers and friends to each other. And his ability to read people and situations is peerless. I told Stephen that during the pandemic, something I’ve done with family and friends is FaceTime while I’m riding my bike around South Beach. Instead of saying, watch my bike ride, I say, take a bike ride with me. And Stephen suggested that I ask to take a bike ride with them. He always knows how to elevate connection to the next level, as the name of his company suggests. What follows are insights that Stephen had as the holidays—with all their uncertainty and emotional temperature—approached. Drew Limsky


At this time of COVID-19, given how hard it is to know how to connect, even with family, we have to be as empathetic and understanding as possible, particularly as we know that the holidays can be the most stressful and emotionally devastating time of the year. There’s all kinds of data showing that depression, suicides and domestic violence are higher than at any other time of the year. This reality is so counterintuitive to the whole Hallmark picture of Christmas and New Year’s. We’re made to believe that if we don’t have that, there’s something wrong with us.

So how do we connect differently and listen differently? What holidays used to look like are not what they look like now. How do you do tradition without the tradition? Families are being torn apart by COVID-19 and politics. But there are ways to mitigate this. Forgive yourself. Be resourceful, and try not to judge. Last spring, for Passover, we ended up on an extended family Zoom Seder that was hilariously inept and wonderfully warm. What is your version of this? Maybe it’s about sharing the self instead of sharing stuff. Children can ask their parents and grandparents about their stories. Often this happens at funerals; stories spill out. Don’t wait for a funeral. And anyone can ask a loved one about the best day of their life, or what Christmas was like when they were kids.

Think about the power of a hug. How do we hug in today’s world? How do we be honest and compassionate? We have to be kinder in our electronic communications. No one wants to be the first person to say they feel isolated, they feel lonely. You don’t want to make the other person responsible for fixing it. So you can say, I just want you to know I feel this way, because I love you and I know you love me.

If you’re doing what you did emotionally before March, perhaps you’re not doing enough. How can we psychically transfer pheromones? A book I read maybe 20 years ago that validated what I do is called Molecules of Emotion by Candace Pert. The National Institutes of Health actually did a study where they demonstrated that emotions have molecules. Though we can’t hug physically or virtually, we can still say, I can’t believe I don’t get to hug you. I wish I could hug you now. Revealing yourself may be more valuable than any tangible gift.

Stephen Garber
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